At the age of 14, a young watched as a terrified pig was slaughtered on his family farm. In the British boy’s eyes, the screaming pig was being murdered. Watson stopped eating meat and eventually gave up dairy as well.
Later, as an adult in 1944, Watson realised that other people shared his interest in a plant-only diet. And thus veganism – a term he coined – was born.
Flash-forward to today, and Watson’s legacy ripples through our culture. Even though only of Americans actually identify as vegan, seem to have about these fringe foodies – one way or the other.
As a behavioural scientist with a strong interest in consumer food movements, I thought November – – would be a good time to explore why people become vegans, why they can inspire so much irritation and why many of us meat-eaters may soon join their ranks.
An Ideology, Not a Choice
They aren’t simply moral high-grounders. Vegans do believe it’s moral to avoid animal products, but they also believe it’s healthier and better for the environment.
Also, just like Donald Watson’s story, veganism is rooted in early life experiences.
Psychologists recently that having a larger variety of pets as a child increases tendencies to avoid eating meat as an adult. Growing up with different sorts of pets increases concern for how animals are treated more generally.
Thus, when a friend opts for this holiday season, rather than one of the turkeys consumed for Thanksgiving, his decision isn’t just a high-minded choice. It arises from beliefs that are deeply held and hard to change.
Veganism as a Symbolic Threat
That doesn’t mean your faux-turkey-loving friend won’t seem annoying if you’re a meat-eater.
Why do some people find vegans so irritating? In fact, it might be more about “us” than them.
Most Americans meat is an important part of a healthy diet. The government eating 2-3 portions (5-6 ounces) per day of everything from bison to sea bass. As tribal humans, we naturally form biases against individuals who challenge our way of life, and because veganism runs counter to how we typically approach food, .
Veganism can be hard on a person’s sex life, too. Recent research finds that the more someone enjoys eating meat, the less likely they are to swipe right on a vegan.
Crossing the Vegan Divide
It may be no surprise that being a vegan is tough, but meat-eaters and meat-abstainers probably have more in common than they might think.
Vegans are foremost focused on . Americans want their meals to be healthier, and research that plant-based diets are associated with reduced risk for heart disease, certain cancers, and Type 2 diabetes.
It may not be surprising, then, that Americans are pursuing a mostly veggie diet. That number is higher among younger generations, suggesting that the long-term trend might be moving away from meat consumption.
In addition, several factors will make meat more costly in the near future.
Meat production accounts for as much as of all greenhouse gas emissions, and clear-cutting for pasture land destroys 6.7 million acres of tropical forest per year. While some debate on the actual figures, it is clear that meat emits more than plants, and population growth is increasing demand for quality protein.
Seizing the opportunity, scientists have innovated new forms of plant-based meats that have proven to be appealing even to meat-eaters.
The distributor of Beyond Meat’s plant-based patties says of its customers are meat-eaters. It is that this California-based vegan company will soon be publicly traded on Wall Street.
Even more astonishing, the science behind lab-grown, “” meat is improving. It used to cost more than $250,000 to produce a single lab-grown hamburger patty. Technological improvements by Dutch company have reduced the cost to $10 per burger.
Even during the holiday season, when meats like turkey and ham take centre-stage at family feasts, there’s a growing push to promote meatless eating.
(This story has been published in an arrangement with The Conversation.)
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